Rumors continue to grow that at least one Supreme Court justice will retire in May. A retirement would allow the anti-choice President Bush the opportunity to nominate a justice who could be responsible for the overruling of Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that gave women the right to safe, legal abortion. In the Court’s most recent abortion rights ruling, Stenberg v. Carhart, the Court ruled 5-4 in favor of abortion rights. The change of one justice could change how the court rules on this critical issue. During his election campaign, Bush promised to appoint Supreme Court justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, two of the most anti-abortion justices.
The most likely candidate for retirement is Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Rehnquist was appointed to the court in 1971 and became chief justice in 1986. He has stated that he would like to retire with a Republican President in the White House because Rehnquist was appointed by a Republican. It is unlikely that a justice would retire in an election year; therefore, 2003 may be the only opportunity for those who do not want to stay on the court through 2005.
Possible replacements for Rehnquist include White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, Miguel A. Estrada, a lawyer in private practice who has been nominated for a seat on the D.C. Court of Appeals, and Harvie Wilkinson, a judge on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. None of these men have a demonstrated commitment to protecting the right to safe, legal abortion, and there are indications that all of them would, if given the chance, vote to overrule Roe v. Wade.
If the President nominates a candidate who opposes abortion or has no clear record of support for abortion rights, one of the only ways to stop the nominee is for those Senators who believe in abortion rights, both Democrat and Republican, to refuse to allow the nomination to come to a vote by using the filibuster procedure allowed for in Senate rules.